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.

wedding photographer taking an image of bride and groom
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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.

I started booking weddings because people knew I was a photographer in my last couple years of college. I had maybe six years of shooting experience doing sports and art photography in college. Good thing I didn’t charge very much money! Film photography was what people expected back then. So I went in and shot very fast, cranking out 10-12 rolls of film.

Amanda Whitegiver, Wild Orchard Studios

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.

The [first] wedding that I shot was at a small little arch Reno Chapel. I did it the way that I recommend nobody shoot a wedding. The reception was at a buffet that wasn’t even booked, so we just went to the back room with 20 people. I played with Photoshop. I didn’t know how to pose anybody. I didn’t have a flash. I just didn’t know what I was doing. Don’t go [in] there blind!

Jeramie Lu, Jeramie Lu photography

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. 

I went to school for commercial photojournalism. I moved to Los Angeles. I was doing red carpet events. I was shooting for a celebrity headshot studio. A lot of actors were coming in asking if we shot weddings. We started saying yes. I was an assistant back then. We were doing celebrity weddings and I was terrified. We were shooting Larry King’s wedding, Tisha Campbell’s, Julie Fisher’s. And I was just out of my league. But that was such a great experience, because I learned how to deal with clients, how to deal with labs, how to edit, etc. It was great to get that confidence and experience by working for somebody else. And then on my own, I had amazing portraiture and weddings under my belt that I could use in my portfolio.

Laura Grier, Beautiful Day Photography

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.

The first thing I did was get someone else who knows weddings to come and shoot with me. Because experience in the studio doesn’t always translate well [to weddings]. I brought out a friend of mine who had been shooting weddings for 20 years prior to me. I did that for the first three weddings that I shot. I basically just booked weddings and became the second shooter. It needed to happen because I had demand to shoot before I really had the experience. I had the technical experience. It was about what needed to happen for weddings, specifically. How does a wedding go down? What are the key shots? What’s the timing? All of that needed to happen with experience.

Evan Chung, Evan Chung Photography

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.

The two (first) major weddings that I booked were my sisters’ – and they both got married in Europe. That’s what helped launch me doing destination wedding.

Laura Grier, Beautiful Day Photography

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. 

The first thing I did when I became a photographer was reach out to five different wedding photographers in my area who were the photographers. They all said no because I didn’t go to school for photography. So I put an ad on Craigslist. The couple is not married anymore. I actually shot one of the brides again years later. So I booked two weddings out of that.

Jeramie Lu, Jeramie Lu photography

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.

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  • Laura Grier

    Laura Grier of Beautiful Day Photography has spent the past 22 years working as a photojournalist on all 7 continents and has made a life out of exploring the world, capturing, and writing about her experiences. She has been a platform speaker for WPPI, WIPA, Canon, Zenfolio, Step Up Women’s Network, and the Wedding MBA Conference. Presently, she is a Los Angeles and Miami based Photojournalist, Travel Writer, and owner of both Beautiful Day Photography (specializing in Destination Weddings) and Laura Grier Travel, featuring her Fine Art Prints, travel workshops, and behind-the-scenes of her jet setting around the world. Laura’s ability to combine her love of travel, adventure, weddings, and art into a chic, colorful perspective, has made her a renowned International photographer.

  • Evan Chung

    Evan Chung is a photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, specializing in weddings and engagements. He loves creating photographs of intimate moments, melts when a solar flare peeks around a backlit couple at sunset, and can still be caught fighting back a tear during a wedding ceremony. Evan goes the extra mile to get to know his clients and their bridal party, and dancing at the reception with new friends is his favorite way to wrap up a wedding night.

  • Jeramie Lu

    Jeramie Lu is a photographer, father, husband, creator, dreamer and educator. Founder of the membership based photography studio Hatch, he has built a community of photographers who live by the motto of #communityovercompetition. He feels everything happens for a reason and everything you do leads you to where you should be. Jeramie loves most getting to know people through his photography, and capturing emotions through images. Being able to translate feeling into image is always his goal; he's learned that the right question will spark the light within any person.

  • Amanda W

    Amanda is a Content Marketing Associate at Zenfolio and the Owner/Photographer of Wild Orchard Studios photography. A BFA graduate from Maine College of Art and Design and professional Lifestyle Family and Branding photographer for over 10 years, she thoroughly enjoys drawing from her experiences to guide new photographers as they are starting out. Amanda lives in the wilds of Maine with her husband and two imaginative daughters. If there’s such a thing as too much dark chocolate, she hasn’t heard about it.

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