Interview With A Wedding Photojournalist
I recently ran across these 16 interview questions on a photo forum (which would be credited if I could find the link) and thought it would be interesting to answer them myself. So I did just that.
The questions and answers are written more towards newbie photographers who want to see how established photographers get started, but I suppose the audience could be anyone interested in the subject.
Q1:What was your photography background before you started shooting weddings?
A1: I was new to weddings but somewhat experienced with a camera when I started shooting weddings. I started shooting travel photography for fun in countries outside of the United States (Mexico, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Thailand & England) starting about 10 years ago and then did some portraiture in the U.S. Weddings seemed like the next obvious challenge.
Q2: How did you get into wedding photography (did you second shoot for another photographer first?)
A2: I wish that I’d pushed to work with another photographer before I started my own business (which would’ve made life a little easier for me), but I started alone. I did some local college classes on photography, read lots of books about professional photography and did some group work.
Q3: If you started off 2nd shooting for photographers, how did you connect with them? What was your experience?
A3: N/A. Although some of the classes I took through the University Of Texas at Austin were very hands on and it felt like I was working for a photographer. Two such classes that I enjoyed were a wedding photography class and a landscape photography class.
Q4: Who was your very first wedding for / how did you book the job, and how did you feel about it?
A4: My first wedding was the family of one of my good friends. They didn’t have high expectations, but they did trust me. I was terrified and prepared for it weeks in advance. More preparation is always better!
Q5: What was in your camera bag? What do you think are the 5 most important things to have in your camera bag?
A5: When I started I used one camera, and I quickly bought a backup. My bag always has 2 cameras (like the Canon 5D Mark ii), one with a mid-range zoom (like 24-70mm) and the other either has the 70-200 mm lens or the 50mm. I always carry lots of batteries, flashes, chargers, etc.
Q6: How much did you charge your first couple / how many weddings have you shot before you asked for getting paid for your services?
A6: I shot my first wedding for $250. My prices quickly increased when I realized I wasn’t charging enough, which is important. As a photographer you need to charge clients the industry standard or you will be selling yourself and other professionals short.
Q7: Do you offer any off-season discount?
A7: Not really. But, I offer military discounts and discounts for brides who shop with a bridal shop I’m associated with. Right now we are running a special on bridal and engagement sessions.
Q8: How many weddings did you shoot in your first year? / How many are you shooting now?
A8: My first year I somehow wrangled 4-5 weddings, which is pretty good for a beginner, considering you don’t have much work/experience to show clients.
In 2009 I photographed over 75 events, including more than 30 weddings. I expect to shoot around 20 weddings this year in part because of the recession the US has found itself mired in and in part because I’ve chosen to work less and spend more time at home with my family.
Q9: Are / were you a full time shooter, or was / is it just a side job for you?
A9: Photography began as a hobby that I enjoyed and now it’s become full time for me (although to be honest I still have another job as well). I put in 70-80 hours a week total, which is too much, but it’s helping me pay off debt and I get to pursue my dream.
Q10: What was included in your packages / how many packages did you offer & how did you come up with them?
A10: I currently have 6 wedding packages, which are differentiated primarily by the number of hours of wedding day coverage. Other things available in some packages are bridal/engagement sessions, a 2nd photographer, albums, etc. I developed the packages based on industry standards and what my clients want.
Q11: What about digital files? Do you include them, or not?
A11: I include a generous selection of edited, full-sized images on CD for my clients. Brides love it, but some “old school” photographers feel threatened by it (as it challenges the old photography business model which hinges on selling prints and albums). Many older photographers thought only 10 years ago that the digital revolution from film SLR cameras to digital SLR cameras would never happen, but here we are in a sea of digital. I believe it’s only a matter of time before providing clients a CD of images is standard practice.
Q12: What was the biggest mistake you made?
A12: Knock on wood, but my painstaking preparation has paid off and I’ve avoided most technical/equipment mistakes and pitfalls that occur which can lead to wedding horror stories. I would say that if I could do one wedding over it would be to say no to a particular couple with whom I didn’t match well. They were unhappy people which made pleasing them next to impossible. I should have asked them to find another photographer, but I took the money and did the job while gritting my teeth, even as the groom insulted me on wedding day simply for his own enjoyment.
Q13: Which wedding photography resources (links / books) did you find helpful? A13: I’ve read lots of good books that I found on Amazon, but the most influential one was Digital Wedding Photography: Capturing Beautiful Memories by photographer Glen Johnson
Q14:Are you part of any other wedding photography forums / clubs?
A14: Not really. It’s hard to have time for this once your business is in full swing.
Q15: Where did you use to advertise, where do you advertise now, and how much money do you spend per year on advertisement?
A15: I’ve tried advertising in newspapers/magazines, Google Adwords, the Yellow pages (online), ads in local news and other methods, with very little success. Currently, I am an exclusive vendor for a local bridal company, and have been for years. It’s expensive but it brings me business and has allowed me to build a reputation with my business, which is very important because you want your work to come to you through referral (word of mouth). I plan to sever my agreement with my bridal company later this year because it has become excessively expensive and I’m finally starting to see a significant number of clients coming in through referral.
Q16: Any other advice for a wedding photography newbie?
A16: Plan, plan, practice, practice. You only get one opportunity to get the shots in weddings. Double or triple up on your equipment. Murphy’s Law is always in play: what can go wrong, will go wrong. Don’t undersell your services! Take your job seriously; Dress professionally, arrive early and stay focused when you work. Brides and Grooms will appreciate your professionalism and you will stand out from other photographers.
Martin Whitton is a wedding photojournalist who lives and works in Austin, Texas.