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I've slowly been building my portrait photography business, mostly doing engagement sessions. One thing I'm still stuck on is wedding photography. I do love it, but I am still so unsure if I should handle it and how to go about it. I market that I am available for small elopements and civil ceremonies, thinking I could handle that, but I've had my first wedding photography inquiry and it's a traditional large one. So, a few questions

  1. Do I tell the client I am inexperienced in wedding photography, and if so how do i word this properly? I clearly have no wedding photos in my portfolio but I feel they should know.
  2. Is it a horrible idea to agree to shooting the wedding, which is a full year away, and then learn the proper use of wedding photography, using flash during the reception, etc before then? I'm great at shooting people in natural light, but my knowledge of flash and off camera lighting is still minimal and I'm thinking I can teach myself before then, Or bad idea?
  3. Should I even try to take this on at all, or decline, and if so how do I say no in a professional manner?

I realize doing photoshoots and weddings are VERY different and I just don't know if I should be trying to do both and take the time to teach myself wedding photography/second shoot before taking one on or just focus on portraits.

  • I made an attempt at outlining some of the most key pieces in my answer below, but feel free to hop in chat if you'd like more of an interactive discussion on the topic. – AJ Henderson Dec 22 '14 at 21:58
  • People get their elopements photographed? Is this new? – user4894 Dec 25 '14 at 19:21
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If you've never worked a wedding before, I'd highly recommend suggesting that you'd be willing to work with them as a second shooter, but are not particularly comfortable being the sole photographer for the wedding as you lack experience working weddings. Then work with them to try to find a photographer who does have primary shooter experience and see if they would be willing to let you second shooter it as part of the referral.

The main key about weddings is that you need to be far, FAR more aware of what is going on and have very few, if any, re-dos. This means you need to be sure of yourself, familiar with how weddings flow, able to shoot on a pretty strenuous time table and no your technique cold so that you can focus on capturing the event rather than fiddling with your gear.

It isn't a good time to be learning on the fly without having someone there that is sure to catch anything you miss. You may end up doing fine and cover it great, but you could also make beginner mistakes and permanently cost them photos of key moments of their wedding. It simply isn't worth the risk if you can avoid it.

As for how to explain it to the client. Explain that while you are comfortable taking photos in a controlled environment, a wedding is an environment beyond your control and you would really prefer having someone there who is used to working in such an environment to cover you if/when mistakes happen.

  • What he said. Second shoot a few weddings before taking one on yourself, both to protect the couple from your inexperience and protect yourself from screwing up an event that can't be redone the next week as a make good... – chuqui Dec 23 '14 at 1:10
  • I don't agree with this answer. As long as you're honest with the bride and groom and they accept that you're a novice (you may even want something in writing) then there should be no problems. As long as you detail which parts you can cover and charge accordingly it will be fine. A lot of people will presume that all bride and grooms want the best when it comes to wedding photographers but it's not always true. If you go as a second shooter you will have no involvement in the workflow at all and you will first have to find someone to work with and probably do it for free. – connersz Dec 23 '14 at 12:00
  • @connersz - the problem is that most people don't truly understand photography, particular event photography, or what the implications may be of not having a photographer that knows what they were doing. If you are hired on as a second shooter, then you aren't going to have any control of workflow, but if you are helping them select a photographer, you can probably get someone to be far more flexible in exchange for the referral. Effectively, the finders fee is to shoot along with them. It will rule out some photographers, but you should be able to find someone decent and cooperative. – AJ Henderson Dec 23 '14 at 14:35
  • You are correct, however, that no two situations are identical and there could be non-standard factors impacting the decision, which is why I also invited the OP to chat about it a bit if she wants. The first wedding I did video for, I did with just my Dad (who also had no experience), but we got through it just fine, but there were a lot of things I wished I had known. – AJ Henderson Dec 23 '14 at 14:36
  • @dpollitt Any respectable wedding photography worth their salt will tell you that not every bride and groom want an expensive wedding photographer with X amount of secondary shooters covering every single aspect. The OP didn't go into detail so we don't know the exact terms of the request. The description says that he was advertising himself as a wedding photographer of sorts, so presumably will have some kind of terms or contract. I stand by my suggestion that additionally if he is worried about it, that he details his 'larger' wedding inexperience in his terms and is honest with the B&G. – connersz Dec 23 '14 at 14:40
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If it's a full year away, then you have plenty of time to work as a second shooter - especially in the summer, so be on the lookout for those opportunities now - and acquire experience.

If you need to learn flash photography, yes this takes experience and practice, but it's also not rocket science. As a start rent a couple of flashes and just experiment in different situations.

Since you've been asked to do this, there is a reason they want you. While price is an obvious consideration for clients, perhaps they like your portrait photography style and want a similar look for some of the photos. For example, if your photos have a natural (as opposed to a very set up and fake look) and intimate quality to them, that's not something that every experienced photographer can reproduce.

If you are committed to doing at least some wedding photography (and others have mentioned a lot of good reasons for doing so) and you prepare for it, then you should take this opportunity. You should also be more confident about it.

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General Advice

Being a wedding photographer means that you have to stay one or two steps ahead of the bride and groom, know your equipment like it is an extension of your body, and be able to create beautiful images that tell a story. You already have a great understanding of your equipment(sans OCF) and are already a successful portrait photographer. What will be more difficult for you is to be completely on top of each unique situation that a wedding day can bring, such as extremely dark lit churches and reception halls, subjects that are drinking too much, the demands that a full 8 hour or more shoot can put on you and your equipment, etc. It also may be a challenge for you to successfully put together an end to end story of a wedding day. This is something that can be taught and learned, but just keep in mind that normal portrait sessions don't quite tell this kind of story(although they can somewhat).

Natural light photographer is a marketing term that to me means I don't know how to properly use a flash. You were gracious enough in your question to note that this is something you aren't an expert at. Most photogrpahers will note this on their websites or marketing materials as some sort of a selling point. A good photographer will use natural light where appropriate and additional on an off camera lighting as necessary, in a seamless and beautiful way. Being able to successfully utilize and manipulate all kinds of light both artificial and natural is what being a great photographer is all about. It is absolutely essential to your success as a wedding photographer that you learn off camera flash. With the wedding a year away, you certainly can get your feet wet and become much more versed in the skill. It is challenging for most photographers and even a year of intensive self teaching may only be the begining for you. On the other hand you may learn quickly and be successful in a much shorter time. At any rate, being competent in off camera flash is a necessity for wedding photography. You will find yourself in locations that are simply too dark, even with the great high ISO performing cameras of today paired with wide prime lenses. But it isn't just dark locations that prove OCF as useful, as there are many situations where you will benefit from adding flash to even out the light, provide dramatic effect, or suppliment what exists for the shot you desire.

You noted one interesting point, in that you currently already focus on engagement sessions. I specifically advise wedding couples to book the engagement session with the same photographer that you plan to have at your wedding day. It is a great way to "trial run" how the couple is in front of the camera, learn a bit about each others personalities, and also for the wedding couple to find out if the photographer is a dead-beat or not. Unfortunately right now you might be missing out on great engagement photography opportunities since you are only doing that and limiting yourself to not currently doing the wedding part.

Finally, if I can give you one piece of advice that above all else I believe is important, I would suggest becoming a second shooter at a wedding first before attempting one on your own. You may have to start out as more of an assistant, carrying equipment and gathering people for necessary shots. But after proving yourself at that task, usually a photographer will be able to utilize someone they trust as a second shooter that can actually take photos at the event. Second shooter experience will be invaluable to learning the ropes of timing, flow, and expectations on a wedding day. You certainly don't learn everything from this role, but you learn a great deal that will benefit you when/if you desire to be the main shooter. See this question for more on this topic: How do I go about becoming a second shooter for a wedding photographer?

Overall, my recommendation to you is to determine where you see your business in 1, 2, 5, and even 10 years. If you want to grow, without burning out, I would suggest that weddings may be one of only a few options. They can be very lucrative when compared to what may require hundreds of portrait sessions a year. If you do decide that you want to jump into wedding photography as your business grows, I strongly encourage you to first second shoot a wedding(or multiple) before diving into an event by yourself. Beyond that, a very strong understanding of OCF is necessary and something even your portrait business will benefit from a great deal - so I would advise getting started on that regardless.

Your questions

Should you let the client know of your inexperience?

Absolutely. To not share this fact is a misrepresentation. It is very likely that they find your portrait photography work great and also are aware that your portfolio does not have wedding images. But being upfront and honest is something that clients will appreciate, and likely lead to some formal(legal) agreements based on any possible issues that you anticipate. To do this properly, don't just add a clause to your contract - first share with them your experience in portrait photography and explain that while portrait photography is a major component of a wedding, it also includes situations that you are not yet well versed in(but willing to learn as much as possible before hand).

Is it a horrible idea to agree to shooting this wedding?

Based on the fact that you already are successful in the portrait photography area, I would say that it isn't a bad idea at all. Most portrait photographers find that weddings can be highly lucrative, and assuming that you enjoy the fast paced all day nature of the event, and don't mind the typical weekend commitment - you may find that weddings are where you strive to take your business in the future.

Should I even attempt this?

That is a question only you can answer. Do you want to grow your business in this direction or not? Does the idea of photographing a wedding excite you or are you only considering this because someone asked for the service? Only you can decide what is right for you, your business, and this potential client.

Resources

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    However, there are PJ-style for realz wedding shooters: i.e., folks who knows how to light and choose not to (e.g., Jeff Ascough); agree it's rare. Also that OCF is more vital for the portrait work, while on-camera is probably more vital for the event stuff. Suggest also Neil van Niekerk's book on on-camera flash and Roger Cicala's lensrentals blog post: FWIGTEW and other first wedding acronyms. – inkista Dec 24 '14 at 0:57
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    That is true inkista - I was specifically speaking to those that try to use the cop out of "but i'm a natural light photographer" instead of learning the skill. Certainly beautiful images can be created without additional lighting but for the majority of wedding photographers its a necessary skill to at least have in the bag. Learning light is needed and it can come from any source artificial or natural. – dpollitt Dec 24 '14 at 0:59

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