Wedding & Portrait Photography: Business, Art & Craft

Many photographers start their careers photographing weddings or doing portraits “on the side.” Me, too. While I was engaged in other aspects of the craft, I worked as a weekend warrior shooting weddings and social events to help raise money for new gear (and pay the rent). I set up a small studio with seamless paper on rolls in my one-bedroom apartment and would do tabletop commercial shoots and actor headshot portraits. In short, I did anything and everything I could to keep my hand in photography and learn all I could about the art and craft. From those experiences I have to say that the one type of job that taught me the most was weddings. There’s nothing like having to deliver photos from a non-repeatable event to ensure that you know your technique and your gear.

© 2010, Grace Schaub, All Rights Reserved
Weddings bring it all together—lighting, posing, framing, action, mood, exposure, and lens choice—all “on the fly.” They require patience, savvy, and a huge dose of social skills. They also make you pay close attention to taking care of business, understanding your worth, knowing what the market will bear, and having enough faith and confidence in yourself to make it pay.

Gaining the technical skills means studying, assisting, and even practicing on friends and family. My first wedding jobs were done only after a good deal of coaching and tagging along to serve as a second camera—for no pay. But it was the best investment of a few Saturday afternoons that I could have made, as working with an experienced hand (albeit, in my case, one of the most cynical human beings I ever met) for a few jobs really showed me the ropes.

You might think that having the instant feedback of digital might make the wedding trade so much easier. After all, when I started you never knew if you nailed the shot until a few days of holding your breath waiting for the lab to deliver the proofs. Digital lets you know that your sync speed is set right, that your flash went off, and that the nervous groom finally had his eyes open for at least one of the shots. But the supposed ease of shooting with digital makes for even more challenges—namely competition, and the fact that every bride’s cousin thinks just because he has a full-frame D-SLR she won’t need a wedding photographer.

But that’s where study, gained instincts, job experience, and a sense of style come into play, and that’s what a goodly number of features in this issue are all about. As you read through the business, lighting, and posing articles we present here, take note of the approach of those who earn their living in this craft, and understand how their attitude and personal point of view defines how they garner customers and grow their business. And while this tends to be a themed issue, keep in mind that this attitude and approach applies to every other type of photography as well.

Some photographers see wedding photography as a rite of passage; others see it as an end onto itself. For me, and many other photographers who have gone on to other careers in photography, it was an essential part of learning the craft, and sure helped many of us get through some otherwise tough times. “Seeing” in black and white has also taken on new meaning, as we no longer have to make the translation in our heads when we compose, or look through amber filters to get some indication of what the scene in our viewfinder will look like when made into a black-and-white image. With EVF and Live View monitors, all you need do is choose the black-and-white option and the scene is revealed in all its monochrome majesty. This is a truly profound change and one that “old-timers” will find to be a revelation.
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