Newlyweds laugh with their Midlands wedding photographers

Breaking into wedding photography. Advice for aspiring wedding photographers

Thinking about breaking into wedding photography as an aspiring wedding photographer? My best advise for anyone looking to do so would be to approach some photographers directly who’s work you really love. Not all wedding photographers are created equal and therefore not all second shooting gigs that you come across will be the right opportunities for you. For this reason, I think resorting to generic “looking for second shooter opportunity” posts on Facebook should be avoided.
Why? Well these kind of posts are 10 a penny and 99% of them read the same.
“Hi, i’m X and i’m interested in expanding my portfolio as a wedding photographer. As such i’m looking for opportunities to second shoot in or around the X area. I am happy to offer my services for free whilst i’m still building my portfolio”….. almost every post reads the same.

Breaking into wedding photography: Being seen

Posting things like this aren’t always a good way to stand out or be seen. Some unscrupulous photographers also use those looking to break in to wedding photography as cheap/free labour. They’ll include a second shooter in their packages to entice couples to book them and then seek out one of the endless stream of budding photographers keen to work for nothing. Don’t be someone else’s freebie!
Something else to consider is that although they’re generally similar, weddings can be very, very different to one another. An intimate city elopement, a relaxed back garden tipi wedding and a very formal Cathedral wedding with endless group shots are all going to be very different days. Respectively, very different types of couples also tend to go for those types of weddings.

What kind of weddings are you drawn to?

It’d be best to try and grasp a loose idea of the kind of weddings you think you might most enjoy shooting and try to connect with a photographer or two who shoot those kind of weddings. You will learn loads more from someone who’s work you truly admire than just a random second shooting job picked up on Facebook.

Contacting wedding photographers directly

When you contact photographers directly, personalise the email beyond just their name or business name. Don’t send out a copy and paste job to several photographers in your area. For a start, word travels fast if there’s someone mass emailing every photographer within a 50 mile radius. You can spot these kind of emails a mile off and with all due respect, they’re likely to be ignored. Nothing says “can’t actually be bothered” than a blanket email so there’s not much incentive to want to give someone a chance.

What should you say then?

Don’t give your life story, but do introduce yourself and what your interests are photography wise. Let the photographer know your qualities and what makes you worth taking a chance on. What can you bring to the day, what skills do you have, how can you help them? Surprisingly, almost no one includes examples of their work either. And if they do, it’s usually something completely unrelated to anything they’ve just said. So if you’ve just claimed to be passionate about people watching or the like, don’t then include photos of pot plants and next doors cat taken from your bedroom window.

Being realistic

Taking someone along to a wedding with little to no experience is risky for a photographer, so appreciate that you may need to prove yourself. Don’t be too proud to start as an assistant initially. If you have no experience shooting weddings before, jumping straight in as a second shooter isn’t something i’d advise. Even if you’ve been to loads of weddings as a guest, they’re different in a professional context.
Working as an assistant can be so much more valuable than second shooting in many ways. Firstly, because there is much less pressure. You will not get to take your own photographs, but you will have time to observe and be present at a wedding in a professional setting. Depending on your skills, you’ll be able to help the lead photographer with things like assembling their gear, setting up lighting equipment, liasing with venue staff on timings, helping with things like holding the brides dress or assisting with group photographs. Many of the skills you’ll get to practice as an assistant are as important as being able to shoot. For example, knowing how to conduct yourself whilst working with other suppliers. It’s not the same as working in an office!
As an assistant will have the time to observe and learn about how a wedding flows, what happens when. You’ll have time to observe how the lead photographer works and how they interact with people. You may pick up tips on the best spots for photos.

When a photographer can’t help you. Trouble breaking into wedding photography.

If the photographers you contact aren’t able to help, don’t lose heart. It’s not as simple just saying “Ok” and letting someone turn up to a wedding with you. There is a lot of extra work involved for the photographer in bringing you up to speed and ensuring you’ll be a help rather than a hindrance on the day (however unintentionally.) There’s also the fact that it will have to be approved by their couples first too. Not every couple are comfortable having an uninvited guest at their wedding.

If you don’t have any luck with the photographers you contact initially, try some others, or ask them for recommendations for other photographers who may be able to help. If you continue to struggle, it may be worth asking the photographer(s) who’s work you admire most if they offer one to one mentoring or training. You’ll then get to work with them on a one on one basis and showcase your knowledge and skills to them. Often you’ll need to pay for these sessions, but it will be a tax deductible expense that will help develop your skills and education, which may better prepare you to work in an assisting or second shooting role.
Be excellent to each other