6 Ways to book your first wedding and get experience – according to 4 experts.
We asked 4 established wedding photographers who have a combined experience of over 50 years shooting weddings, “How did you book your first wedding and what was the experience like?” This article summarizes the main takeaways from their experience to help you book your first wedding, build your experience, gain confidence, and avoid mistakes.
Download this wedding shoot equipment checklist to make sure you are prepared for every wedding shoot.
Use your close personal network as the most likely source to book your first wedding.
This is especially true with people in your direct orbit. Indeed, many photographers report getting approached by their friends, family and coworkers for their first bookings.
This is true in many interactions we have with our members at Zenfolio. It is also true for Amanda Whitegiver and other established photographers in our panel.
Offer a few freebies – and prepare as much as you can for your first wedding shoot.
When speaking with our experts about their early days in wedding photography, there is a clear common thread: “trial by fire”. As many photographers before you, it is likely that you will also make mistakes as you go through the learning curve. This way, offering a few freebies or heavy discounts is a way to buy forgiveness for those rookie mistakes. We advise that you simply be upfront about your experience and set reasonable expectations with your client.
However, needless to say that offering a discount is not a license to mess up someone’s wedding shoot. Indeed, it is good practice to prepare as much as you can to minimize the likelihood of making mistakes. As our guest expert Jeramie Lu attests, do not go blind into your first shoots.
PRO TIP: In this hub, we strive to offer you a plethora of resources to help you prepare and avoid mistakes. For instance, check out these articles about poses, props, and gear you’ll need for your wedding shoots.
Work as an assistant for established wedding photographers.
This is a great way to gain hands–on experience and get your foot in the door without bearing the brunt of responsibility if things go wrong.
In fact, this is how Laura Grier built her portfolio and learnt everything about the wedding photography process from client management all the way through to the editing and delivery process.
Become a second shooter – even in the weddings that you book.
Engaging an established photographer to be the primary shooter – even at weddings that you book – is another great way to gain hands-on experience while mitigating the risk of errors.
This was certainly Evan Chung’s strategy while getting into wedding photography. Even though he had experience in photography in general, this allowed him to go through all the motions until he built the experience and confidence to shoot a wedding successfully on his own after just a few shoots.
Keep your future aspirations in mind, from the very start.
Remember that everything you do in your early days should serve as a stepping stone to accomplish your future aspirations. Unless you are doing this as a hobbyist, it’s about building a wedding photography portfolio and the experience you need to secure paid bookings in the area where you want to specialize in.
We mentioned earlier that freebies and discounts are a great way to secure your first gigs. In fact, all the established wedding photographers in our panel did exactly that. However, unless these lower-paying gigs bring you closer to your dream job, you may be wasting your time. So always ask yourself: How do these projects serve your future aspirations?
Laura Grier offered a great example of how the very first steps you take can shape the trajectory of your future career. Her first two major wedding shoots were free engagements for family, which were destination weddings. This set the course for her evolution toward shooting destination weddings.
If all this fails, try these other tactics to secure your first wedding photography bookings.
It is clear that many early photographers find their first customers within their inner circle of friends, family and coworkers. However, if this fails, do not despair. There are many alternative avenues to explore in order to market yourself.
Case in point, Jeramie Lu tried networking first – and it failed. Then, he scored his first booking through Craigslist. Today, he is a successful, established wedding photographer.
Our advice is to think about initiatives that cost you as little time and money as possible and are the most likely to get you results quickly. For instance, you might not have the time or expertise to create a complete SEO strategy or set up advertising campaigns on Google Ads, unless you are a marketer by trade. Much easier efforts to secure your first clients might include:
- Visiting bridal shops asking for referrals,
- Putting a few dozen dollars toward promoting a Facebook post, or
- Asking those around you to network with their circle of friends, family and coworkers.
At the end of the day, if you are offering a free wedding shoot, there is certainly a “budget bride/groom” out there who is willing to take a chance on you and who has not found you yet!
PRO TIP: Read this article about how established wedding photographers get customers. It may give you additional ideas on how to score your first and future customers.
More great advice from established wedding photographers.
Our expert panel of wedding photographer also gave us their take on:
- How their scored their first customers,
- How they get clients now that they are established,
- Their favorite camera gear to shoot weddings,
- The equipment their bring to wedding shoots,
- Their favorite aspects about being a wedding photographer,
- How to manage customers during a shoot.
Watch the full webinar now: How to get started as a wedding photographer.