I'm entering my fourth year of being an engagement/wedding photographer, and my second year of doing it full-time. Compared to some pretty hardcore veterans I know in this business, I'm still very much a baby in this industry; I know I've got plenty more stories to get under my belt before I'm qualified to really be giving advice. But one of the interesting things about this field is how quickly you grow. The amount you learn early on, even from just one wedding, is completely staggering; the photographer I am now and the kind of business I run bares virtually no resemblance to what I was doing when I started out. This list is both for any budding photogs out there and as a sort of introspective exercise for me; I think it's always healthy to sit back and reflect when you have a moment and try to pinpoint your highs and lows.
- Be realistic in your pricing.
This is actually a really difficult one, because this goes both ways; you need to be brave enough to ask for the compensation you deserve, but you also need to be realistic about where you are in your technical abilities, the equipment you're working with, the depth of services you can provide, and the quality you're capable of. It was almost impossible for me to find the balance between those two, and as a result, I decided it would be easier on my conscious if I erred on the side of caution and stayed on the lower end. Looking back now, I was way too low, even just in terms of hours put in; I was dumb and didn't calculate in hours spent editing, travel expenses or anything besides the time I was actually with the couple. Don't do that, y'all.
- Be consistent in your editing.
LORD DID I STRUGGLE WITH THIS. Basically it goes like this: when you're just starting out, you're not used to editing mass groups of photos from a single shoot. You're used to editing a small handful of photos, and editing each one individually in such a way that you think looks cool for that specific photo; it will probably look completely different from the others in the handful, and that's okay. They're not a set, they're not meant to compliment each other, you'll probably post one on IG and that's it.
You can't do that with sessions. Session photographs need to be consistent across the board. This is for practical as well as aesthetic reasons; the couple might love two photos in particular from the set, but if the processing looks completely different on each photo, it's not going to look good in a set, or together on the same coffee table. On top of that, you're telling a story; it's difficult as a viewer to follow the narrative of the photos when the processing is disjointed from photo to photo. The exception here is color vs. black & white; a mix of the two can definitely be fantastic.
- Find your niche.
This isn't really realistic until you've got about a year of work under your belt, but it's something I wish I had even been aware of sooner: every chance you get, try to move your business towards the clientele that you want to attract. This doesn't mean turning down clients left and right because their wedding isn't 100% consistent with your style! It just means gradually shifting your business to the point where you have a brand, a vibe, and you consistently get exposure in the circles that you really enjoy working with, regardless of what those are. This also means coming to grips with the fact that some people aren't going to want to work with you; the vast majority of the time it's nothing personal, you just have a different style than they're looking for, and ultimately it's far better for everyone that they get what they want and you get that time to potentially give to a client you really jive with.
- Stand up for yourself.
Photography is a hard job. It's demanding, it's physically strenuous, and it's time-consuming. It's also, in my opinion, the best job on earth. But you need to stick up for yourself when you feel that you're being treated unfairly. This does not mean not going out of your way for your clients, or not giving 100%; it means that, realistically, you work in the service industry, and you might not always get the best treatment. Sometimes you just have to take it and it's not worth the trouble; but if a client is trying to talk you into staying late without compensation, or trying to get more out of you at the last minute than what you had previously agreed to, how you respond is your call. This is where the importance of contracts comes in.
- Gimmicks will only get you so far.
This is much more of a personal preference thing, but I'm not really into cheesy commercial engagement and wedding photos. And that's just me! If you love that and love doing it and want that for your photos, that is completely your call; it's not inherently bad or good, it's just your particular brand. But that being said, don't try to rely on Pinterest or the sole ideas of the clients to carry the weight of your photos. Props can be fun, but eventually, you have to own what is inherently you about your photos, and it's not gonna be a chalkboard. What's inherently you is what sells your product and services! It's the overall experience that you give your clients and how that translates into the final work! That comes first; props and cheese (if you so desire them) come later.