Wedded to It: How to Win in the Wedding Photography Market According to 3 Top Pros

© Candice C. Cusic Photography

For our annual discussion on the business of wedding photography, I spoke to three wedding photographers who are finding success in doing what they love. One of the keys to their success is that their marketing ideas and tips illustrate top-of-mind awareness, which helps keep them foremost in their clients’ minds.

Thanks to my contributing photographers for their insights: Candice C. Cusic, Lisa Mark, and Cliff Mautner, as well as Martin Levy at Martin Levy Public Relations for his assistance with this article.


Shutterbug: What marketing tactics have worked best for your wedding photography business given the different marketing tools available? For example: advertising, bridal shows, e-mail blasts, websites, blogs, retail vendors (such as wedding venues), referral requests, social media.

Cliff Mautner: I’ve never been a fan of bridal shows. They feel like cattle calls, and there are far too many other photographers. That said, if you’re at a midrange price point, or perhaps lower price point, bridal shows could be a good method for meeting potential clients. With regard to advertising, there was a time when I’d put a couple of full-page ads in magazines and the phone would ring. However, today, magazine ads are dead.

Your main goal, today, from a marketing perspective is still word of mouth. Firsthand referrals are still king. There is still no better method for obtaining new clients. Whether it is referral lists from venues, or referrals from previous brides, word of mouth is the most trustworthy way to book clients.

After word of mouth, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the most important thing you can do. Your website is the portal to your business, and if people can find it organically, you’ll improve your odds of success. There are many different methods to improving your SEO, but there is no substitute for putting in the time. Title tags, captions, videos, and informative content are what drive Google to rank your site. I will never claim to be an SEO expert. In fact, my knowledge is limited. But, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, it will pay large dividends. It’s also something that must be ongoing. It takes work, but it’s worth the time.

Candice C. Cusic: Your website needs to grow and change with you, not be a showcase of what you shot when you created the site. My website changes every three years and there are always better websites that are more responsive to iPhones, have larger photographs, and other benefits. Maintaining your website with blogs, updated content, SEO-enriched text, and terrific photographs is a great way to grow your client base.

Five-star reviews on Yelp and Google help strengthen your brand in your community so list your business, do a great job, and ask for a review. Your happy clients would love to express how pleased they are with you so give them that opportunity!

I blog my shoots on Facebook and Instagram, and have built up a solid following of non-photographers who enjoy my work and that leads to great referrals. Try giving an incentive to refer you, and they will do it. Embrace social media—it’s one of the best promotional tools out there for photographers.

© Cliff Mautner Photography

Lisa Mark: I have never done a bridal show in 11 years. That is not to say there’s not value for others, but I didn’t feel it was the right path for me. Back when I needed it, I couldn’t afford to do it (we are talking thousands of dollars just to get a booth). I’d heard from my colleagues they were just “meat markets” and, having attended as a bride when I got married in 2010, I had to agree. No vendors were memorable to me. So I continue to work hard on my blogging (focusing on keywording for my city’s best wedding venues) as that method works for me. I am still getting new clients from blog posts I wrote five years ago! The long-term value of traditional blogging and SEO is limitless.

There is one vendor that matters to get on their referral list, and that’s venues. That is also hard to do, but one that is worth trying for. Just don’t spend a lot of money trying; I wasted a few sample albums before I realized that it is not really an effective use of marketing money. I haven’t pursued it much over the years, but if you want to, getting on a list as a preferred venue vendor is a worthwhile method to try in your marketing.

Having originally built my business back in 2008, I have seen a lot of change throughout the years. When I began, my target market (mainly women getting married in Toronto, Ontario) were mostly doing their planning online. At the time, there were a handful of highly relevant bridal online forums, so I posted my work there. The interaction was amazing. Now things have changed, and several years back all the planning couples moved to social media platforms, and the “online forums” died a slow death. The problem? Social media giants like Facebook and Instagram tightly control business pages. You can either pay for play, or not get much return on your investment (either financial or time, which is just as valuable). I’ve learned Facebook can still work well, even though the target audience is getting older. They are still in the ballpark of those planning a wedding (versus the teens to early 20s who hang out mostly on Instagram).

© Lisa Mark

You have to be clever to get your audience to click your link. Here’s a real example of something I tried and it kind of worked and kind of didn’t. I wrote a blog post about the “Top 5 Unique Wedding Venues in Toronto.” I made sure this blog post would be timed during “Engagement Season”—e.g., the time between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, when everyone and their dog is getting engaged. Think about it, first they book the venue, then the photographer. It’s the natural progression so this is when you should take aim with your marketing. I had seen from my Google Analytics stats that this was a Google search term used by couples in my area. I then linked my article via my business page on Facebook, and paid for a highly targeted audience to see it.

I only spent $50 but I did get a ton of clicks and many inquiries. Great, right? No, not so much for me. The problems were 1) Almost everyone asked me my pricing. This particularly bugged me because my prices are very obvious on my website. This means they didn’t spend much time really looking at my website before clicking that “Contact” button, so how serious can they be? 2) Everyone who did reply said I was too much money, or just didn’t respond. I learned very quickly that while I could target specific areas of people, I can’t guarantee that they are my target market financially. I always tell my students about this technique because it could work fantastically if you’re just starting your career and have a lower price point than I did.

The lesson? Go where your target market is. Nowadays it’s mostly Instagram. I use IFTTT, a free automation website app, to auto-share to both my Twitter and Facebook pages whenever I share on Instagram. I highly recommend this to everyone. I have done comparisons and, to be honest, the interaction with my Facebook page is so low that I may as well save my time and automate the whole process. Finally, if someone comments on your posts anywhere—answer them! This is so important and will push your post higher in people’s newsfeed because it tells the algorithm that your content is engaging to the readers.

© Lisa Mark

SB: What skills or tools do you think are most important for a wedding photographer to be more successful and why?

Cliff Mautner: The typical answer to this question will be understanding light, photo skills, and people skills. However, I think that goes without saying. Those things are truly important, no doubt. I believe, though, that customer service is the single most important “skill” a photographer should acquire. Customer service is equal to, or even more important than, the images produced. There are far too many good photographers out there. The way one treats and interacts with a client may determine success or failure. Response time, writing skills, verbal communication, and an overall positive demeanor are critical to your success as a wedding photographer. Learn your craft, obviously, but concentrate on the way your clients will perceive you through the way you communicate with them.

Lisa Mark: Invest in yourself and the continued learning of skills to improve your craft, especially workshops. Taking Jerry Ghionis’s five-day workshop literally changed my life and gave me the jump I needed to open a studio location. It’s been so amazing, and even nine years into my career it’s so important to keep learning, so invest the time and money to do so.

Have the right tools to do your job well. For example, you need a proper desktop computer with a monitor to edit on (laptops are not reliable enough for color correction); Photo Mechanic to make culling your images fast, because your time is priceless; and Lightroom to make your edits and Photoshop to make final tweaks. You should be getting it 95% right in camera, with only the last 5% being Lightroom and Photoshop corrections. Don’t expect Lightroom or Photoshop presets to change your life. They are a starting point and can be great as a help, but you need to get to the final result yourself. It almost never takes just one click.

Candice C. Cusic: It’s imperative to have fantastic people skills in this business. People reflect your own emotions back at you, through your lens. If you’re nervous, so are they, and so is your photograph. You have to have confidence, love what you do, and give your clients an experience, not a thumb drive of photographs. Master your craft, learn off-camera lighting, and delegate. I have a team that I work with at weddings that consists of one lighting assistant and one associate photographer. I delegate what I don’t love doing (family formals) to my associate, so I can focus on what I do love.

© Cliff Mautner Photography

SB: What recommendations would you make to a photographer looking to make a career move into wedding photography?

Lisa Mark: You better love it. You better love people and have a heck of a lot of patience for them. You need to place client service above everything but you need to also remember to value your time more than anything. Raise your pricing as soon as you are able to help support the industry as a whole. Get training and learn your craft before you charge for it. And be ready to hustle and post regularly on social media, then blog absolutely everything you would want to shoot again. For example, have a wedding at a venue you hated? Don’t blog it. Only show what you want to photograph again. If you don’t want newborns, don’t post baby photos. Simple.

Cliff Mautner: If there was only one thing I’d do over, I would highly recommend a rigorous business/marketing/accounting curriculum before beginning your business. Artists in business tend not to understand what it takes on the business end. I know of fabulous photographers who fail miserably because they lack the marketing skills, and they aren’t the best business people. Learn those skills and it’ll strengthen your entire business. In addition, no matter how long you shoot weddings, you must remember that it may be your 1,000th wedding (or in my case, well over 1,000) but never forget that it’s your client’s first. When I first started, my attitude was that the images were my images. As I matured, I realized that they were my client’s images, not mine. The photography revolves around the day; the day doesn’t evolve around the photography.

© Candice C. Cusic Photography

Candice C. Cusic: You must know your craft, find what you’re good at, and market yourself. I see many photographers jumping to photograph any wedding at extremely low prices just for the money. This devalues your work and your experience immediately. Find a way to stand out from the pack. What makes you unique? If three photographers charge the same amount for the same thing, potential clients would stop looking at the photographs and start looking at their stuff. “This one offers a photo booth. That one will give me three albums.” Find what makes you valuable to your client, and they’ll stop looking at your stuff and start looking at their experience working with you.


Candice C. Cusic:

Lisa Mark:

Cliff Mautner: